New UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Faces Uphill Task in Dealing With Junta

By The Irrawaddy 28 October 2021

Noeleen Heyzer, a former United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General who had a warm relationship with Myanmar’s previous military regime and its proxy government, was appointed on Monday as the new UN Special Envoy for Myanmar.
The 73-year old Singaporean is the successor to Christine Schraner Burgener. As well as inheriting the mission to tackle the Rohingya Muslim issue in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, she must also continue with the task of trying to persuade the Myanmar junta leaders to engage in dialogue to settle the ongoing political and social turmoil caused by their February 1 coup.
Unsurprisingly, Noeleen Heyzer’s appointment as the new UN Special Envoy has drawn considerable interest from Myanmar’s politicians. The Irrawaddy talked to some local politicians – including one from Myanmar’s parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG) – and a political analyst to find out what they think of the UN’s latest appointee.

Sai Leik, General Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy

The appointment of a Singaporean to tackle Myanmar affairs is because of the country’s influence on Myanmar, such as in financial or social issues including labor and education. We hope that she will be able to put more pressure on the current military government than her predecessor. At the very least, she should be allowed to visit the country and hold talks.

Zin Mar Aung, NUG Foreign Minister

From a diplomatic point of view, Myanmar’s issues are not easy for anyone to tackle. We see it as a huge challenge to engage with a dictator who thinks only of staying in power, who is extremely stubborn when it comes to tackling political issues and who puts his own personal power above the interests of the country.

No matter how good the diplomats are, there will be challenges for them. Rather than focusing on individual efforts, Myanmar’s issues need to be addressed by the international community with a really well-coordinated approach.

U Pe Than, Former Rakhine Lawmaker

No matter who is the new UN Special Envoy, it will be very difficult for them at this time to work inside the country as the junta will not permit that. The regime is under diplomatic pressure from all the international community, including the UN, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

If the UN envoy is allowed to visit Myanmar, they [the military] will suffer even more. There may be more demands from the UN, just as ASEAN’s Special Envoy is demanding to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and calling for the release of political prisoners.

The junta has no willingness to comply with these demands. Thus, the UN envoy will be limited in what she can do. No matter who holds the position of envoy, they will not be able to do very much in practice.

U Aung Thu Nyein, Political Analyst

She is a veteran ambassador from Singapore. She came to Myanmar to help during Cyclone Nargis [in 2008]. She also had a good relationship with former prime minister U Thein Sein in 2009.

Her predecessor as UN Special Envoy was not allowed to enter Myanmar [after the coup], and it was challenging for her.

Noeleen Heyzer’s strengths are her close ties to the previous regime and its proxy government. I think the UN appointed her on the grounds that Singapore, as an Asian country, is in a better position to talk to Myanmar. But success or failure does not depend on her alone. It has to do with all aspects.

All the stakeholders need to engage in dialogue. The talks need to include the junta, local political parties and all opposition groups, including ethnic groups.

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